Why a university degree is still worth its weight in debt

When I scrolled down the list of results my heart sank as I saw my name wasn’t within the 2:1 column, relegating my dreams. I was not alone with my 2:2 degree classification but it did little to subside the feeling that the last three years had been a waste. My degree in archaeology from Durham University seems unimpressive on paper, three years with a mountain of debt snowballing out of control and a degree that was not conducive to employment in journalism, a market that is furiously competitive out of recession let alone in it. This, however, is a gross misinterpretation as the common saying “Don’t let your degree get in the way of your education” rings very true in my case.

I arrived at Durham with no direction for the future and no clue what I wanted out of life, seeing the next three years as merely a stop off point before the real world and by that time I would have life the universe and everything in it completely solved.  I have always loved photography, from my first disposable camera to my 21st birthday present of a high tech digital SLR. The arrival of the camera was twinned with it a desire to have these photos showcased somehow; this came to fruition in the form of Palatinate Newspaper, Durham University’s student paper. After a year of taking the odd photo of Durham events and more artsy photographs I applied successfully to the position in my third year of Photography Editor, this is where I found the ‘direction’ I had been searching for.

The role within the paper gave me the confidence to start writing articles, I had always been somewhat mocked for my dyslexia by teachers and fellow pupils alike as it resulted in bad spelling and my brief writing style that always condemned me to bad marks at school and university. However, this newfound outlet perfectly suited my dyslexia as sub-editors ironed out my atrocious spelling and my writing style fitted perfectly into the small spaces in the paper. I later moved on to other papers, writing for four separate student newspapers -locally and nationally- by the conclusion of my degree and I believed that this would be my future, my calling. However, my degree classification had not aided me with swift sail into a journalism job as many employers will see my grade and simply add it to the rejects pile, nearly eight out of 10 employers (78 per cent) have admitted to not even considering graduates without a 2:1 degree despite work experience and perhaps greater ability in the field.

The squeeze in graduate jobs has forced hundreds of thousands of graduates to be far more intrepid with career choices. Instead of knocking on a close door for months and months I have decided to travel further afield in search of career opportunities. During my gap year and subsequent summers I worked in a Tibetan refugee camp in North-West India as a teacher and carer and I have always wanted to show the world the lives they have had, the hardships they have had escaping Chinese rule and living in exile. Therefore, since the UK media industry is closed for economic maintenance I have chosen to travel back to the refugee camp and write a book documenting the lives of individuals living out their lives as a forced refugee.

Although I may never use my archaeological knowledge base and my 2:2 may forever haunt me, I wouldn’t have changed my decision in hindsight. My university education without a shadow of a doubt has created this future for me. My education in what actually is out there may well have got in the way of my archaeology degree but it has prepared me better for life than any first could have ever done. So I urge those seeing the statistics today to not shy away from university life as it will give you far more in life than than a few numbers on your CV will ever represent.

24 thoughts on “Why a university degree is still worth its weight in debt

      • didntseethat says:

        Im 2009, so Im a year earlier then. But with a 2.2 you do feel like you walking round with a big stain on you and unwanted. Still gotta hang in there. Which SLR camera did you get? I love what you did travelling- again something else Im saving up for! Although it would be good to get one that is media related or even better funded!


      • James Dunn says:

        Yeah, I’m just hoping my experience and ability get taken into account not just my grade! I got a Nikon D60 all the photos I’ve added have been taken with my camera, it incredible! We are in very much the same boat about travelling, I’m just lucky to have saved while I was at uni.

  1. johnfitzgerald says:

    My first pop at a degree (Trinity College Dublin, early 2000s) involved rather flak exam results being eclipsed by success with the student paper. I went on to do some work experience at the Guardian, and land a job in London. Then I went back to Uni part-time to study philosophy.

    It’s certainly true that a degree (of any classification) is no longer the golden ticket it once was. But there are still plenty of opportunities out there. The main thing is to find out what motivates you most, and keep doing that.

  2. sarahnsh says:

    You do a great job with your photos too. Inside of college one of my favorite classes was anthropology and cultural anthropology, and I always enjoyed those not so traditional classes were my favorite. You definitely need to look outside of your degree, especially in this job market. I’m still holding back on going back to school, I just have to decide what I want and what I’d like to go after so I don’t spend years saying, “Hmmm… major, minor, what do I want it to be? I don’t know.”

  3. Josh Jones says:

    Well said! I think a lot of graduates (myself included) find that it’s not the degree they studied that gives them the direction they need – it’s the freedom and experience of being at Uni.

    Essentially it’s a big playground where people can try their hands at all sorts of things, and see where they fit best. If you look at the origins of the word University this fits well!

  4. Steve Hopkinson says:

    You know what’s not conductive to a career in journalism? Mixed metaphores. A “mountain of debt snowballing out of control” indeed.

  5. Liza Miller says:

    And what a Photography Editor you were! Not to mention a philandering writer, whorishly contributing to any and all sections… :p

    Lots of love xxx ps. We find out about GSMAs on Monday! Fingers crossed for Palatinate success.

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